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Free Dallas Area Places to Take Visiting Family

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Eeek! The parents have decided to spend a weekend with you to “visit Dallas.” Now you’re forced to serve as tour guide, in addition to your job as student.

Weather will play a big role in determining what you do with your parents. So, this list is divided into “good weather” options and “bad weather” options. While rain is clearly a bad weather event, for some, bad weather can be the brutal 90-degrees plus humidity typical of so much of Dallas’ summer.

These activities are all free, although most offer ways to spend money as well.

Good Weather

1. Klyde Warren Park – The newest, hippest park in the Dallas area is over the Woodall Rodgers Freeway and a city-lover’s delight. You can check out board games, take in a free tai chi lesson, or just walk the paths that encircle the park. For some extra fun, buy a meal at one of the many food trucks that line up on the south side of the park or grab a meal or snack at a restaurant in the park or nearby. Allow one to two hours depending upon what you plan to do.

2. White Rock Lake – This is a gem of a spot in Dallas for walking, running, picnicking, fishing and just generally relaxing. It’s the go-to place for Dallasites who want wide-open space, a place to go bird-watching, or to run while being cooled by lake breezes. There’s also a great dog park on the north end of the lake complete with its own doggy “beach.” Make sure to bring water as the fountains never seem to be where you are. Better yet, bring a picnic and your dog and have a good walk by the mansions that line Lawther Drive. For extra fun, rent a canoe or kayak (in season). Allow one to three hours depending upon activities.

3. Highland Park Village – Depending upon where your parents live, this could be almost like visiting a museum. High-end boutiques from the world’s top designers include Dior, Jimmy Choo and Ralph Lauren’s Purple and Black label salon. Positively the best time to visit is after sunset during the Christmas season, when each tree is meticulously wrapped with thousands of tiny lights. Allow one to four hours, depending upon how you shop.

4. Downtown Historic McKinney – If the weather is nice and your parents like to wander through quaint streets and poke around in gift shops, nothing can beat a day in downtown McKinney. The community has carefully nurtured its town square with a variety of restaurants, wine-tasting rooms, cute shops and free weekend activities planned during nice weather. “Second Saturdays” ensure the restaurants, art galleries and other spots are open until 10 p.m. Free music is a feature of many weekend events. Get to McKinney early on Saturdays to shop at the nearby Farmers Market. Allow two to four hours on a Saturday.

5. Tour UT Dallas Campus – Hard to believe but your parents want to see what you see on a daily basis. They do want to know where your classes are, what you do for relaxation (Go swimming? Play soccer? Get a snack in the Student Union?) Take them to The History of Aviation Collection in the McDermott Library and make sure they see the Natural Science and Engineering Research Lab on the north side of campus with its fish-scale exterior. Then stop by the bookstore and get them to buy you some UT Dallas bling.

Bad Weather

1. Dallas Art Museum – This world-renown museum includes a little bit from all over the globe. The free galleries encompass European, American and Asian artwork. There are all sorts of free activities as well, and food and drinks (including adult beverages) are available for purchase, making the galleries great fun for evening visits. For lunch or a snack, the DMA Café offers a variety of familiar dishes. And the museum store is a great spot to get a special gift.

2. Crow Collection of Asian Art – This is a short walk from the Dallas Art Museum. Admission also is free, although a donation is suggested. The collection is an amazing look at Asian art through the centuries. For additional insight into Asian culture and history, sign up for one of the many classes, lectures or events offered through the museum. (You also need to register for many of the free events as well.) It may seem odd to find such an interesting slice of Asia in the heartland of America, but it’s certainly worth a visit.

3. Mary Kay Museum – This is an “only in Dallas” trip. Art museums are in every city. but nowhere else is a museum dedicated to a woman and the $2.9 billion cosmetic company she built. The quirky small museum gets generally high marks and is in Mary Kay headquarters on the North Dallas Tollway. An adjoining restaurant is open for lunch or snacks. Open only on weekdays. Allow one to two hours.

4. Federal Reserve Bank’s Economy in Action Museum – This is truly for those who enjoy oddball destinations, want to visit something unique to Dallas or who love free activities – or all three. The Fed’s museum offers interactive exhibits and multimedia displays about the Federal Reserve, money and the economy. Alas, it’s only open on weekdays, but worth the effort to get there. (It’s also near Klyde Warren Park.)

5. NorthPark Center – It’s free to park and look at NorthPark Center, regularly ranked as one of the nation’s top five shopping destinations. As other malls have had their day, NorthPark just seems to keep getting more popular, not only with tourists but with local shoppers as well. The center’s distinctive white brick has set it apart from others since it was first built on a 97-acre cotton field in the mid-1960s, and sculptures from the Raymond Nasher collection grace halls throughout the building. 

Jeanne Spreier

Jeanne is a writer and editor who has worked in JSOM's External Affairs for more than seven years. She is also mother of three college-age kids who were born and raised in Dallas, and gets a lot of her Dallas know-how from them. On any given day, she would rather be outside somewhere. She earned her communications degree from the University of Kentucky. Read more articles

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